June 18, 2019

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Jets riding No. 1 goalie while stats leader Brossoit rides bench

Opinion

ST. PAUL — He has become Winnipeg's version of the lonely Maytag repairman, the fictional character created by the appliance company to stress just how reliable their products were.

And it's a shame, really, how little backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit has been pressed into service by the Winnipeg Jets.

Remember Brossoit? The 25-year-old has been nothing short of brilliant this season, going 8-0-1 in his nine starts as he attempts to get his career back on track following several frustrating seasons, including stints in the AHL and ECHL. (He also has one relief appearance where he inherited a 3-0 deficit from a porous Connor Hellebuyck in Calgary and was tagged with a loss).

Consider this: of the 57 NHL goalies who have made at least nine starts this season, Brossoit's 2.11 goals-against-average and .939 save percentage are first overall in both categories. Those are the kind of numbers that should have the coach considering calling your number on a nightly basis.

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ST. PAUL — He has become Winnipeg's version of the lonely Maytag repairman, the fictional character created by the appliance company to stress just how reliable their products were.

And it's a shame, really, how little backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit has been pressed into service by the Winnipeg Jets.

Remember Brossoit? The 25-year-old has been nothing short of brilliant this season, going 8-0-1 in his nine starts as he attempts to get his career back on track following several frustrating seasons, including stints in the AHL and ECHL. (He also has one relief appearance where he inherited a 3-0 deficit from a porous Connor Hellebuyck in Calgary and was tagged with a loss).

Consider this: of the 57 NHL goalies who have made at least nine starts this season, Brossoit's 2.11 goals-against-average and .939 save percentage are first overall in both categories. Those are the kind of numbers that should have the coach considering calling your number on a nightly basis.

\Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit's 2.11 goals-against-average and .939 save percentage are first overall NHL for goalies with 9 or more starts this season.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

\Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit's 2.11 goals-against-average and .939 save percentage are first overall NHL for goalies with 9 or more starts this season.

Instead, they don't appear to have earned Brossoit a thing. He was likely getting nine starts in the first 42 games of 2018-19 regardless of how he played, but you'd think the fact he's stood on his head on those rare occasions he takes the crease might mean a little extra rest for workhorse No. 1 Hellebuyck.

I keep thinking back to his last start, which seems like a lifetime ago. Brossoit single-handedly kept the road-weary Jets in their Dec. 22 game in Vancouver, stopping every puck that came his way and allowing Mark Scheifele's late third-period goal to stand up in a 1-0 victory against the Canucks. It was grand larceny from Brossoit, with extra-special meaning given the 40-save shutout came days before Christmas in front of numerous family members and friends in the city he grew up in.

"This is one of those games I don’t think I’ll forget," Brossoit told me that night in the dressing room at Rogers Arena. I asked him when the next special game might be, knowing full well the Jets were slated to play New Year's Eve in Edmonton against the Oilers, the team that gave up on him after last season.

"That could be the next one on the bucket list," he said with a big smile.

It never came to be. Hellebuyck started the first game back after the Christmas break against the Calgary Flames (4-1 loss), was between the pipes again two nights later against the Minnesota Wild (3-1 loss), and then rang in 2019 against the Oilers in a 4-3 win. Hellebuyck played again Friday in Pittsburgh (4-0 loss to the Penguins), and the last two games at home against division rivals (5-1 win over the Dallas Stars, and a 7-4 win over the Colorado Avalanche). He'll likely make a seventh straight start when the Jets play the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul Thursday night.

Brossoit has a record of 8-0-1 in his nine starts so far this season.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Brossoit has a record of 8-0-1 in his nine starts so far this season.

Thing is, Hellebuyck didn't exactly look like himself Tuesday night against the Avalanche. The Vezina Trophy finalist from last season was flopping all over the ice and seemingly having trouble tracking the puck — strange looks for a guy who usually plays what can best be described as a big, boring game.

Hellebuyck has been inconsistent at times this season, has yet to post a shutout (Marc-Andre Fleury leads the league with six) and his 2.86 GAA is 33rd among those 57 goalies with at least nine starts. His .909 save-percentage is slightly better at 30th overall.

Is fatigue setting in? Hellebuyck has started 33 games and is on pace to exceed the 64 starts he made last season when injuries to backup Steve Mason meant a rotating cast of masked men behind Hellebuyck, which also included the departed Michael Hutchinson and Moose goalie Eric Comrie. Mason, Hutchinson and Comrie combined for eight wins in 18 starts last season — the same number Brossoit has posted in nine starts.

I'm a big believer that the Jets — especially Hellebuyck — ran out of gas by the time they reached the Western Conference final last year against the Vegas Golden Knights, ultimately falling in five games.

Heading into this season, Jets head coach Paul Maurice indicated they would be managing Hellebuyck's rest carefully to ensure he was in peak condition for what would hopefully be another long playoff run. And yet, now past the halfway point of the campaign, that plan appears to have been thrown out the window despite the fact the Jets have, statistically, the most capable backup in the NHL ready and willing to spell Hellebuyck off.

Winnipeg Jets goaltenders Connor Hellebuyck, left, and Laurent Brossoit chat with a coach at practice in October.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Jets goaltenders Connor Hellebuyck, left, and Laurent Brossoit chat with a coach at practice in October.

Frankly, it doesn't make any sense.

I expect Brossoit will be in net Friday when the Jets host the Detroit Red Wings as part of a back-to-back. After that, when might his next start come? Hellebuyck will likely get the next four games heading into the bye week and all-star game break — a pair of home dates with the Anaheim Ducks and Vegas followed by big divisional road games in Nashville and Dallas.

If so, that would mean Brossoit would go a stretch of more than five weeks with just one appearance to show for it.

He should have gotten the call in Edmonton, not just for sentimental value but based on merit. The Jets have played the Oilers three times this season and Brossoit didn't see action in any of them. (Hellebuyck gave up 12 goals in those games, which included a regulation win, an overtime win and an overtime loss).

Obviously, you can't change the past. But going forward, Maurice and has staff must find a way to get Brossoit somewhere in the range of 12 to 15 games in the second-half of the season, not only for his sake based on his strong play but for the overall good of Hellebuyck and the team.

Based on how this season has played out and the fact the Jets only have four remaining sets of back-to-back games after this week, I won't hold my breath waiting for it to happen.

Sure, the Jets appear to be running as smoothly as a Maytag appliance right now without any major defects. But allowing Hellebuyck a little extra maintenance along the way might help prevent a costly breakdown down the road.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

Read full biography

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